Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Unsung Flagship Sedans Part 1

I like the idea of a flagship sedan.  One car that represents everything a brand is supposed to stand for.  A showcase for luxury, performance, comfort, technology and style or whatever else a brand wants to put out there to proclaim its superiority and dominance - with varying levels of success.

Some flagships are obvious pinnacles of automotive excellence and immediately come to mind - the BMW 7-Series, Mercedes S-Class and Lexus LS are just a few that come to mind.   Others are not.

This series of posts will be celebrating some of those lesser well-known or obvious flagships from the last 20 or so years.  Perhaps they didn't age as gracefully as other models that were burdened with the same brand responsibilities.  Maybe they just didn't sell as well as hoped.  However, I would argue they all have something good to offer their drivers.

Today's cars are a couple of GM's former flagship offerings.

Cadillac Fleetwood, 1993-1996
Based on the same rear-wheel drive platform as the Chevrolet Caprice and Buick Roadmaster, the Cadillac Fleetwood was the biggest Caddy of the 1990’s.  This Cadillac was typical of what you would expect from the brand: big size, floaty luxury with acres of cowhide lining the seats (which fit 6 passengers... comfortably).  But old American luxury isn’t what makes the car interesting.  The real story here was the engine.

Not the first year’s engine - that was a 350c.i. V8 with 185hp, barely enough to get the car up to speed in a respectable time.  I’m talking about the upgrade that came in 1994, when GM decided to drop in the same LT1 engine found in the Corvette.  Yes, you read that right – Corvette.  Now it was a detuned version, but it still put out an era impressive 260hp and a strong 330lb-ft of torque.  Having driven a similarly equipped Roadmaster, I can honestly say that these cars are actually a lot of fun to drive, especially if you have to cover a lot of highway mileage.       

Buick Lucerne, 2006-2011
The Lucerne was Buick’s replacement for two large cars, the Lesabre and the Park Avenue.  Now, I can’t say that the Lucerne was a drastic departure from the same formula used by its predecessors – large front-wheel drive land yachts with suspensions tuned for comforts – but it did add some updated styling inside and out.  Again, nothing groundbreaking, but certainly better than what Buick was offering prior to this. 

The Lucerne was built on the same platform as the outgoing Pontiac Bonneville and the Cadillac DTS.  In fact the highest spec Lucerne was essentially identical in almost every way to the DTS, including the 4.6L Norhtstar engine, but for thousands of dollars less.  You just had to put up with the fact that you were driving a Buick-looking car rather than a Cadillac-looking car. 

Full disclosure at this point, we have one of these parked in my garage (2009 CXL model with a 3.9L V6) and I love it.  It’s fantastic on the highway (can you tell I commute?) and for a big car it actually gets pretty great fuel economy.  Also, with Blizzaks, it’s a mountain goat in the snow.  The best part is, most people that bought new ones were, um, old.  So they were driven gently and maintained well, which makes them prime used car bargains!   

The next cars I will cover will be a couple of classy imports... but not Germans.  Keep checking back to find out!


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